Restoration of the Interior: September 1979 - January 1983

Wednesday, April 22, 2020/Categories: History

In 1977, there were many sections of plaster that needed to be repaired and repainted. The ceiling and walls were generally very grimy with dirt. The original decoration by Satory was completed with calcimine paint that would not withstand water. Fr. Bartholomew Dacek, O.S.B., Pastor, and the parish council named a Restoration Committee to study what the options were to repair and repaint the church. Those appointed to serve on this committee were Elmer Skoch, Teresa Stallbaumer, Jill Weixelman and Elmer Ronnebaum.

On September 25, 1977, it was voted at a parish meeting that the parish should proceed with improving the front plaza with new concrete and landscape and to continue to evaluate the interior painting repair and then to work to restore the leaded windows. By November 1 the new plaza was poured, including a handicap ramp.

After an extensive search for qualified artisans, the Restoration Committee recommended that Joseph Oswalt of Waterville, KS be given the chance to demonstrate techniques to restore the interior painting. Oswalt was a commercial artist who had been introduced to the church in 1974 when doing a drawing for an anniversary booklet.

With the demonstration area completed on the south side of the choir and ceiling section, a contract was approved to have Oswalt work as an independent contractor to restore the entire 22,000 square feet of the church interior walls and ceilings. Assisting him were his wife Anita and workers Chari Johnson and Kathy Montgomery who both lived at Vermillion, Kan.

Every square inch of the intricate designs were traced and an exact duplication of all original designs was made. Extensive plastering was also necessary. Since the old calcimine paint was found to be very unstable, it was decided to remove all of it down to bare plaster. The walls were then prepared and redecorated with a washable acrylic latex paint. The oil paintings by Zukotynski were also renewed. The four round paintings of the prophets were affixed over new canvas and then mounted on wood and coated with polyurethane finish. The experimental work began in September 1979. Since the parish had agreed to provide scaffolding, the Restoration Committee recommended that the parish instead purchase the metal scaffolding. The summer of 1980 was extremely hot and Oswalt and his workers labored during the night when the temperature at the ceiling was more tolerable. The project was completed in January 1983. The cost was approximately $110,000 and required 8,000 working hours and 217 gallons of paint.

In an interview printed in the Seneca, KS Courier-Tribune Jan. 27, 1983, an article on the restoration reads: "The names Michelangelo and Rembrandt come naturally to mind when one views the interior of St. Mary's Church. And the comparison between Rembrandt and George Satory, the artist who originally painted the lavish designs in 1901, is one that is easy to make for Joe Oswalt. `George was a master. You can see it in the articulate designs and in the color harmony and balance. We used more than 300 different colors to match his colors, and there are one half million individual designs that all work together. That's what separates the Sunday painter from the Great Master. The master can make it all work together."

The Kansas Preservation Alliance awarded the church the Kansas Preservation Award in 1982. The award and plague were presented to Oswalt and the Restoration Committee and Fr. Dacek by Senator Nancy Kassebaum at ceremonies in Topeka. The Kansas Legislature passed a resolution recognizing the restoration project and those who guided it. A sale was held in 1983; scaffolding, flooring and other materials purchased for the project were sold for more than $8000.


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